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Article

John Weisweiler

The just distribution of social goods was fiercely debated in the ancient Mediterranean and the ideologies of egalitarianism and inegalitarianism developed in Rome and Athens shaped Euro-American political thought from the Enlightenment onward. By contrast, the study of actual income and wealth distributions in ancient societies is a more recent development. Only in the early 21st century have scholars begun to make systematic attempts to quantify levels of inequality in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. Since we lack the documentary sources on which the study of inequality in contemporary economies is based, most of these reconstructions rely on a combination of modelling and the interpretation of isolated figures found in literary texts. This fragmentary evidence suggests that in the best-attested regions of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East inequality was considerable. In particular, the formation of large territorial states—most notably the empires of Babylon, Persia, and Rome—facilitated the concentration of wealth into fewer hands. But it is unclear whether inequality increased over time. At least, there is no unambiguous evidence that wealth and income were more unequally distributed in late antiquity than in earlier periods of Roman history.

Article

Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, was deposed and sent into exile in Egypt for opposing the Christological views of Cyril of Alexandria. The theological and ecclesiastical controversy was set in motion soon after Nestorius began to serve as bishop of Constantinople. Interested in eliminating heresy, he proposed to align himself with the emperor Theodosius II. Soon thereafter, Nestorius learned that debates were taking place concerning the appropriate title of devotion for the Virgin Mary. In the use of the title Theotokos that some had proposed, he sensed a deeper Christological question, namely, “Was Mary the bearer of the Godhead”? He reasoned that if Mary was indeed the Theotokos, as some suggested, then God, or rather the Logos, the second person of the Trinity, was born from her. For Nestorius, however, while Mary was the mother of Jesus, she was not the mother of the Logos, and for that reason could not be called Theotokos.

Article

Dina Boero and Charles Kuper

Symeon the Stylite the Younger (521–592 ce), a pillar-saint or “stylite,” practised his mode of Christian asceticism for more than sixty years on a mountain southwest of Antioch. Symeon’s lifetime, spanning most of the 6th century, coincides with a drastic time of transition in the history of Antioch, which began with the devastating earthquake of 526 ce and includes events such as the sack of Antioch in 540 ce and the Plague of Justinian in the following years. Symeon also happens to be one of the best-documented holy men from this period. The remains of his monastery have been preserved and studied extensively. A number of pilgrimage objects, most notably clay tokens, have also received much scholarly attention. The extant literary evidence is also vast, though understudied in comparison. It includes homilies, letters, and short hymns penned by the saint himself, as well as two hagiographies composed by members of his monastic community shortly after his death. Symeon, therefore, is a critical figure for understanding many issues relevant to the study of the Eastern Roman Empire during this period: political, social, and theological history; the development of cult sites and pilgrimage; the literary self-representation of a stylite and his community; and the construction of monumental architecture and water management in remote locations in Syria, among many others.

Article

Laura Mecella

Eustathius of Epiphania (modern-day Hama, Syria), late 5th–early 6th ce. He authored a lost summary of universal history in Greek, known only from Evagrius Scholasticus, John Malalas, the Suda, and Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos (14th century). It seems likely that both Evagrius and Malalas had direct access to it, while the Suda knew its existence only from Hesychius of Miletus’s Table of Eminent Writers (Onomatologos). We do not know the details of the link with Nicephorus, who quotes Eustathius in a passage concerning Theodosius II’s reign and Attila’s campaigns against the Romans (Historia ecclesiastica 14.57). A Patmos manuscript attests the existence of Eustathius’s work as late as the 13th century, so such direct access by Nicephorus cannot be ruled out.1 However, Nicephorus’s narrative is based on several different sources, and it is impossible to identify what could have been taken from Eustathius.2 Furthermore, the possibility that many fragments of John of Antioch’s Chronological History preserve a large part of Eustathius’s work has little credibility: according to this hypothesis, both John Malalas and John of Antioch would have drawn widely on Eustathius’s history, copying it extensively.

Article

Peregrine Horden

“An evil destiny of bubo and armpit” (CIG 8628), the plague of Justinian is the name given—unfairly, since the emperor did not cause it, himself contracted it, and was long outlasted by it—to the pandemic of “bubonic plague,” infection by Yersinia pestis, that struck western Eurasia and North Africa towards the middle of the 6th centuryce and that recurred in phases until at least the middle of the 8th century.1 In geographical extent, demographic and social impact, and chronology, it probably far surpassed the major epidemics of the Roman imperial and late antique period, the 2nd-century Antonine plague and the mid-3rd-centuryplague described by Cyprian of Carthage. Study of the Justinianic pandemic has been transformed in the 21st century not only by ever more sophisticated exploitation of the usual range of historical sources, literary and material, but by the recovery of the DNA and the reconstruction of several of the genomes of the pathogen from the skeletons of some of its victims. And yet almost every aspect of the pandemic remains debated. There is no consensus on its route into the world of Justinian, its subsequent epidemiology, virulence, or macro-historical consequences.

Article

Lawrence H. Schiffman

The Cairo geniza was a storeroom for no longer usable holy books in the synagogue of Fustat, Old Cairo, where for centuries, old Jewish manuscripts, mostly in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Judeo- Arabic, including also secular documents and communal records, were deposited. In the 19th century, European scholars became aware of this collection and manuscripts were removed to a variety of libraries in Europe and the United States. This material provides those studying the ancient world and ancient Jewish texts in particular with an amazing treasure of documents, throwing light on the history of the biblical text and its interpretation, the Hebrew language, Greek and Syriac versions of the Bible, Second Temple and Rabbinic literature, Jewish liturgy and the later history—political, economic, and religious—of the Jews in the Mediterranean basin. This material has totally reshaped our understanding of these fields. In the area of Bible, these texts illustrate the manner in which the vocalization and cantillation symbols were developed. Hebrew versions of some important Second Temple literature, later found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, had earlier been discovered in the geniza. Many previously unknown Midrashim and rabbinic exegetical materials have become known only from this collection. This material has provided an entirely new corpus of liturgical poetry.

Article

Gregory D. Wiebe

The background of early Christian demonology was in both Hebrew and Greek culture. Jews associated the Greek word daimōn with the false gods of the surrounding nations. This was in many ways an intuitive application of the Greek term. It carried the sense of ambivalent divine or semi-divine power, which significant philosophical traditions understood to mediate between humans and gods. The New Testament carries this theme, though its focus is more on Christ’s exorcisms of demons, and his gift of that power to his disciples, with the early church tying the two together in the theological literature, as well as baptismal exorcisms and renunciations of the devil and idolatry.Demons were widely thought to have aerial bodies, which allowed them to perform various marvels, like foretelling the future. They were ultimately taken to be fallen angels with Satan as their leader, though this was not a given early in the tradition. While the Christian understanding was that Christ had defeated them on the cross, this was not taken to preclude the ongoing influence of demons in human affairs prior to the final judgement. Indeed, they constituted a significant moral problem for the Christian life, which absolutely opposed them. For Christians, Christ and the demons were the two sides of the fundamental dilemma of every human soul. The problem of demons manifested differently depending on the context, whether in its encounter with false religion, from idolatry to the persecutions the gods inspired; or in the innumerable tempting thoughts encountered in the pursuit of ascetic discipline.

Article

Blossom Stefaniw

Didymus the Blind (c. 313—c. 398) was a textual scholar and ascetic practitioner. He is not associated with any of the major ascetic settlements around Alexandria and appears to have spent his entire life in or near the city. He is most known for his treatises On the Holy Spirit and On the Trinity (although the authorship of the latter is disputed) and for his biblical commentaries.Although the Council of Nicaea in 325 took place when Didymus was still a schoolboy, controversy and competition by the parties involved continued through Didymus’ lifetime. Didymus himself supported the decision of the Council, which the Alexandrian bishop, Athanasius, had promoted. After Didymus’ death, however, he was no longer associated with the orthodoxy of the day and, because of his reception of Origen of Alexandria, was condemned, along with Origen and Evagrius Ponticus, in connection with the 2nd Council of Constantinople in 553.

Article

Blossom Stefaniw

The literary tradition portrays Arsenius as a particularly stringent and austere man who was formed as a monk at Sketis, near Alexandria. It is probable that his reputation in his own day was much greater than the scope allowed him in the modern reception of the desert tradition, which tends to focus on other figures like Antony the Great. While we cannot independently verify his date of birth or death or his precise movements and deeds during his life, the traditional story of Arsenius remains important as a depository of key elements from the ascetic tradition, such as the relationships between different ethnic and social groups within ascetic communities, the abba and disciple system of ascetic formation, and teachings on compunction, pure prayer, and extreme austerities.Arsenius is believed to have been born to an aristocratic family in Rome around the year 354 and to have committed himself to an ascetic life as a young man. He moved to Constantinople in 383 and is said to have tutored the Emperor Theodosius’ sons (Arcadius and Honorius) while there.

Article

Blossom Stefaniw

A deacon, ascetic teacher, and prolific writer, Evagrius Ponticus lived from c. 345 to 399ce. Within some strands of late ancient Christianity, his teachings were no longer considered orthodox later in his life or after his death, although the Armenian and Syrian churches continued to cherish his writings. As a young man, Evagrius contributed to the doctrinal campaign of Gregory Nazianzus at the 1st Council of Constantinople in 381, a position which prevailed as orthodox at that time. Around 382, Evagrius left the capital and joined a monastic community in Jerusalem led by Rufinus of Aquileia and Melania the Elder, who were learned ascetics. In 383, while still in Jerusalem, Evagrius committed himself to asceticism and eventually travelled to Egypt. Until his death in 399, Evagrius studied and taught and wrote on the ascetic life, developing a meticulous taxonomy of evil thoughts, their origins, and the physical experiences associated with them. He arranged his works in an ascetic curriculum for the training of monks, monitored and counseled more junior monks in their practice, and provided handbooks on the ascetic practices or biblical texts which were best suited to neutralize specific evil thoughts.